Myth: Sex trafficking requires travel, transportation, or movement across borders.

Reality: Sex trafficking does not require transportation and can even happen within homes.

The very word “trafficking” makes us think of transportation. However, this association can prevent us from identifying and helping victims. When we associate trafficking with transportation, we are usually thinking of human smuggling. Human smuggling is defined as the transportation of an individual from one destination to another (i.e. across a border), usually with his or her consent. On the other hand, human trafficking is modern day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. So, while human trafficking can involve transportation or movement, it is not a required element.

In fact, the most common recruiting methods that pimps use don’t require transportation at all. For example, at least 31% of victims are groomed through the “boyfriend method.” This tactic is simple, yet incredibly effective. The pimp plays a romantic role to earn a girl’s trust and affection. Once he does this, the pimp can easily manipulate her into sexual exploitation, often disguising it as doing “favors” for him. Many victims recruited by this method aren’t aware that they are being trafficked and resume a normal lifestyle. Some girls may even continue to live at home or go to school while they are being groomed or exploited.

Still others are trafficked without even leaving their homes. The place where children should feel the most protected and loved is the place where they are abused over and over again. These girls and boys, who are recruited and sold by their own family members, account for about 10% of all trafficking victims. If we continue to think of sex trafficking as the transportation of individuals, we will miss opportunities to identify and help children who are being bought and sold within their own homes, school, and communities.

As you go about your day, lookout for these warning signs in women and children you interact with:

  • Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts  
  • Unexplained absences from school, truancy  
  • Less appropriately dressed than before  
  • Sexualized behavior  
  • Overly tired or falls asleep in class
  • Withdrawn, depressed, or distracted  
  • Brags about making or having lots of money  
  • Unexplained expensive clothes, accessories, or shoes  
  • New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims.)  
  • Older boyfriend, new friends with a different lifestyle, or gang involvement  
  • Disjointed family connections, running away, living with friends, or experiencing homelessness

If you notice one or more of these signs in someone you know, say something. Even if you are unsure of a situation, don’t hesitate to report a tip to the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888